Green Island is located southeast of Taiwan, a small primitive island 33 kilometres from Taitung City. The climate here is sub-tropical – warm, humid and windy conditions throughout the year. The average temperature is about 27°C during summer (July and August) and around 20°C during winter (January and February). Nonetheless, dive season lasts for a whopping 12 months with water temperatures hovering from 26–29°C (summer) and 22–25°C (winter). It should be noted though, there are typhoon risks from July through to September, when the strong southwest monsoon brings big waves.
Visibility is usually on the good side, exceeding 30 metres. There are more than 20 boat-diving sites and more than 10 shore-diving sites on the island, providing both fantastic wide-angle and macro dives.
One of the most famous dive sites around Green Island is known as Big Mushroom. Located west of the island, Big Mushroom is known for a specific multi-coloured stone coral (Porites lobata) that sits on the sandy bottom at 18 metres. Around 10 metres in height with a circumference of around 31 metres, Big Mushroom is said to be the oldest and largest living coral in the world today. It has been chillin’ here at Green Island for more than 1,000 years and is still growing towards the surface at a speed of a centimetre a year.
The reef at Big Mushroom is covered with beautiful carnation tree and tube corals and there are usually many red coral perches with damsel fish gathering at the top. The species to look out for around Big Mushroom are anemone fish, jade filefish, porcupine fish, cardinal fish, lionfish, goatfish and butterfly fish, painting a colourful world.
Another famous dive site at Green Island is Iron Reef, located southwest of the island. It is an artificial reef composed of four cubic iron structures 10 metres long on each side. Iron Reef is on the main path of the Kuroshio Current (Black Stream), which brings warm, tropical-like waters full of nutrients. Many marine creatures are attracted to feed, breed and linger in the area, forming a rich ecosystem. The creature coverage on the reef reaches over 80 percent.
One of the highlights diving Iron Reef is the encounter with a school of beautiful long-fin batfish. They are attracted by the sound of the boat engine and usually swim gloriously close to divers. With the company of batfishes, divers descend along a mooring line to the iron structures. The top of the reef is around 21 metres and hits bottom at 31 metres. It is covered with beautiful soft corals, sponges and barnacles. There are usually groups of goatfish, angelfish, parrotfish and wrasse gathering around the reef. Dive season follows that of Big Mushroom.
For divers big on macro, Gongguanbi is the site to get all excited about the little things. Located north of Green Island, the diversity of creatures in Gongguanbi is amazing. There, divers have a chance to see many species of rare nudibranchs, frogfish, ghost pipefish, boxer crab, Paguritta hermit crabs, candy crab, Harlequin shrimp, imperial shrimp, saron shrimp and tonnes more.
On a trip out to Gongguanbi in June 2012, I was extremely lucky to see and photograph a very special nudibranch, a golden one with green tentacles and beautiful blue spots. It was later identified by Dr Richard C Willan from Australia to be a new species of Tritonia sp. It is also worth mentioning, for pygmy seahorse lovers, there are good chances of finding Coleman’s (Hippocampus colemani), Pontoh’s (Hippocampus pontohi) and Bargibanti’s (Hippocampus bargibanti) pygmy seahorses here. The best time to dive at Gongguanbi is from March to September.
Heading north, Long Dong is also a very popular site for divers in Taiwan, especially those who love macro. Long Dong is located northeast of Taiwan and getting there takes around an hour by car from Taipei City. In winter, the strong northeast monsoon brings big waves and the water temperature drops below 20°C, making the sea rough and almost impossible to dive. However, when spring comes, the sea is calm again, with beautiful temperatures.
Diving season here starts in May and ends in September. Though there are typhoon risks during July, August and September, diving in summer is amazing if the weather holds up. There is an abundance of popular macro creatures, including rare nudibranchs, frogfish, ghost pipefish, imperial shrimp, sea horses, boxer crabs, scorpionfish, blennies, basket star shrimp, Harlequin shrimp, tiger shrimp and more.